Update, Jan. 21, 1:15 p.m.:
A trial date of March 4 has been set in the case of Henry T. Williams Jr., according to online court records.
Original post, Jan. 19, 5:30 a.m.:
Warwick, RI — Video of the Dec. 8 Warwick City Council Ordinance Committee meeting that led to the arrest of Henry T. Williams shows the resident speaking out of turn and complaining to Committeewoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson about backyard fires troubling him for five years.
Williams, 65, of 69 Julian Road, approached councilors on the Ordinance Committee before the regular 7 p.m. City Council meeting, asking permission to speak, which they denied, according to video of the meeting posted to the city’s UStream account.
“May I speak?” Williams asks, standing next to another speaker who was testifying before the Committee.
“No,” says one member.
“No,” echoes another.
“Not yet,” advises another speaker in the video.
Williams also claims in the video that he was on the docket to speak about open fires, but his name does not appear on the posted docket for the meeting.
Typically, the public is given the opportunity to address the council during the council’s regular meeting, with public comment posted on each agenda and docket.
In the video, Ordinance Committee Chairman Joseph Gallucci informs Williams they’ll address him later in the meeting, then Councilman Edgar Ladouceur notes Williams’ inquiry is out of order.
“Because you called her [Vella-Wilkinson], she dropped it, and now I’m stuck. It’s five years I’ve been living with this situation. She won’t do anything about it,” Williams says, then begins to walk away toward the public seats a few steps before turning back.
“Smoke. People’s smoke coming in to people’s homes. It is a disgrace,” Williams added before sitting down.
Prior to Williams’ addressing the council, Vella-Wilkinson requested that the committee withdraw the ordinance regulating backyard fires, since local and state fire officials had informed her that state law already covers the issue.
The resolution called for a series of regulations for open fires in the city, including restricting recreational fires in a fire pit or chiminea to no more than 3 ft. wide by 2 ft. high.
The committee voted unanimously to withdraw the issue.
Following Vella-Wilkinson’s report about the interruption to Warwick Police, Williams was arrested Dec. 15 and charged with disrupting a public meeting.
The incident was not the first confrontation Williams has had with Vella-Wilkinson, according to Warwick Dep. Chief Michael Babula. He noted police were also called April 14 when Williams argued with Vella-Wilkinson’s husband at their home.
On Monday, the City Council approved Ladouceur’s resolution to install three new police alarm panic buttons at City Hall. Ladouceur said he drafted the resolution in part due to Williams’ Dec. 8 disruption.
In September, Williams ran in the Republican primary for Ward 3, losing the bid to run against Vella-Wilkinson on the ballot to John Falkowski. Vella-Wilkinson won the resulting contest for another term on the council.
When reached via email, Williams said Vella-Wilkinson has been “after me” since the primary.
“I called her once since the primary and the next thing I know is [sic] I had four police officers here to tell me that she felt that I was harassing her,” Williams wrote.
Regarding the fire issue he mentioned during the meeting, he said it concerns a neighbor on Walker Road who burns fires in his backyard.
“[T]he smoke enters into my home and makes me sick as well as any company I have over,” Williams wrote. He said the smoke often sets off smoke detectors in his house.
Once, he said, he woke to a smoke-filled house thinking it was on fire, but it was his neighbor.
“I have asked, in fact begged, my council person many times to help me with this problem and it has fallen on deaf ears for years now,” Williams wrote.
Committeewoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson could not be reached for comment on this story.
Editor’s Note: The video above is an excerpt from the longer version posted on the Warwick City Council UStream account.
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